There aren’t a lot of games that really get to me on an emotional level. Some games try to do it so obviously that, even when it’s well crafted, it doesn’t seem so genuine. Gris does, with its incredible use of a hand-drawn styling, splashes of watercolor, and perfectly crafted melodic soundtrack, everything necessary to strike at your emotions, but it never once feels like it’s trying to force it. The game tells a story that it’s up to you to understand and it still manages to have enjoyable gameplay in the process.
The start of Gris is slow. It can even seem painfully slow at times. For a player without much patience, the game could altogether stop within the momentum destroying slog of the first 30 or 40 minutes of the game. It becomes clearer as the game goes onward (and the pacing becomes much more enjoyable) that the frustration of the start is actually intentional. I came to find out that many aspects of Gris have an intentional gameplay design that reinforces the nature of the story – making it a much more tangible experience.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple throughout. In the shortest summary, it would just be another puzzle platformer. The platforming is, for the most part, not much of a challenge. There is no failure state in the game, so you can’t die or get a game over screen. Missing a platform, in the rare instances that you do, usually just means adding a few seconds of additional running and jumping. It is very cohesive as you gain new abilities that augment your ability to jump and add a glide, and the puzzles grow to incorporate this extremely well.
The puzzles range from mundane jump timing to some much more interesting and complex designs in the back half of the game that make use of your abilities and entertaining environmental designs. Most of the puzzles that are required for progress in the game aren’t too challenging, but Gris also has some secret collectibles that usually require a bit more thinking and effort to get to. In general, though, the gameplay itself is only a piece of what makes this game such a wonderful experience.
Gris shines in the integration of its beautiful art style with a soundtrack that almost feels like it was built simultaneously with the development of the game. The visual appeal comes from a design that has the character, creatures, and environments feeling as though they were hand-drawn. The use of watercolor to fill both in the cinematic portions of the game and various parts of the gameplay make every entry of new color – an element that caps off each level of the game – feel like a gift. The way that Gris slowly bestows upon the player new colors that flood the screen and incorporate into new mechanics can be breathtaking. However, as I progressed from the barren monochromatic beginning to the lush vibrant world that the game became toward the end, it had the effect of making an already short game feel like it as going by even faster.
Gris does falter in a couple of notable areas, though. The first is that it’s very short. The game flows so well (after the first 30 minutes) that the 3.5 hours I spent in it barely felt like more than one or two. That says a lot about the quality of the experience, but it could have been twice as long while still feeling like a nice succinct adventure.
Also, I often found myself at times not being able to discern what was in the foreground and what was in the background. Being that the game is 2D, sometimes you’re able to walk through what looks like a wall and other times you can’t. Most of the time it’s identified by being slightly faded, but other times you can pass through what appears to be a solid wall put there to serve as a puzzle element. In some areas, it was tough to determine which objects I could jump on since some items may just be part of the foreground as visual set pieces. It was slightly frustrating, but thankfully with the lack of a failure state, the frustration quickly subsided.
It’s hard to do a review about a game that I appreciate so much without just repeating compliments and praise. Gris is one of those games that’s going to stick with me for a lifetime. One that I’ll reference when people talk about games that connect on an emotional level or games that have great visuals or a perfectly integrated soundtrack. It’s astonishing to me that such a small team put together their very first game and it’s this good. I can only hope that Nomada Studio has the will to make more games that feature the same great qualities.
Gris is a fairly simple and fun puzzle platformer that takes advantage of the familiar game type to serve as a vessel for delivering a touching story with an incredible art style and perfectly integrated music.
- Engaging puzzle platforming
- Exceptional visual design
- Great soundtrack that is perfectly integrated
- Simple story told well through visuals and music alone
- A bit short